Is LinkedIn Losing Its Luster for Lawyers?

In 2011, LinkedIn sent me an email thanking me for being its 137,277th member. Considering that LinkedIn now has more than 380 million members worldwide, that tells you that I was an early adopter.

I was an early evangelist, as well. Shortly after I joined LinkedIn in 2004, I wrote a post here titled, LinkedIn Helps Expand Your Circle of Contacts.  In subsequent blog posts, articles and speeches over the years, I regularly urged lawyers to get on LinkedIn and to spend time figuring out how to use it. In fact, my general position over the years has been not just that lawyers should be on LinkedIn, but that they need to be on LinkedIn.

I haven’t been exclusively a cheerleader. For example, in 2013, I wrote a post here raising concern that LinkedIn endorsements could violate legal ethics rules. But that wasn’t really a complaint about LinkedIn so much as it was about lawyers who aren’t smart about how they use LinkedIn.

Increasingly, however, I find myself to be of two minds about LinkedIn. On one hand, I continue to see its usefulness to lawyers as a directory and means of making connections. At the same time however, I am bothered by the fact that, as LinkedIn’s membership has soared, so has the level of useless noise, unwanted spam and pointless connection attempts.

Spammy Connection Requests

Perhaps what most troubles me about LinkedIn these days is that I now receive far more connection invitations from people trying to sell me something than from people who legitimately want to connect for professional purposes.

Web developers. Financial consultants. Insurance brokers. Marketing consultants. Career counselors. Product vendors. Tailors. Digital content providers. Office furniture salespeople. Lead-generation consultants. SEO experts. Real estate brokers. IT consultants. Website developers. Recruiters. Videographers.

These are just some of the recent connection requests I have received. Requests of this type far outnumber legitimate connection requests. And I haven’t even mentioned all the requests I get from people who I can’t figure out what they do or why in the world I’d want to connect with them.

Sometimes I get fooled into accepting a request that seems to arrive without a hidden agenda, only to then immediately receive a LinkedIn message from the person thanking me for connecting and wondering if they could interest me in this or that product or service.

In 2011, I wrote a post chastising lawyers who ignored connection requests from strangers on LinkedIn.

Why … would you want to ignore invitations from strangers? The whole point is to broaden your network to add people you do not currently know — not to limit it.

Think of it this way: If you were at a live networking event, would you accept or reject opportunities to mingle based on whether you previously knew the person? Of course not. The purpose of networking is to create new connections that might prove useful to you as a professional.

Nowadays, I am changing my tune. I scrutinize every invitation and reject far more than I accept. It’s not that I have a fear of strangers. It’s that I already have more than enough spam and noise in my digital life without needing more via LinkedIn.

Good Reasons to Stick With It

There are plenty of good reasons for lawyers to be on LinkedIn and — so far at least — the pluses outweigh the minuses. If nothing else, LinkedIn is currently the default go-to directory for professionals and business peoples of every ilk. It is also a handy way of messaging people when you can’t find the information to contact them directly. And its relatively new publishing feature, LinkedIn Pulse, prompted my friend Amy Knapp — the woman who wrote the book on LinkedIn and blogs for lawyers — to predict that LinkedIn could kill off law blogs.

Articles abound about LinkedIn’s benefits for lawyers. Marketer Kern Lewis published a post on Forbes.com, Want Hard Proof that LinkedIn Works? Ask a Lawyer. He told of a lawyer who, after spending just a few hours over the course of a few weeks on LinkedIn, had generated referrals worth $12,000.

I’ve heard a couple of these LinkedIn miracle stories myself, straight from the horses’ mouths. My favorite was of a lawyer who joined LinkedIn and immediate did what so many of us do — began connecting with law school classmates. On his first day on LinkedIn (as I recall the story), he discovered that one of his law school buddies was now the general counsel of a company his firm was courting. Long story short, he reconnected with his old friend and his firm got the business.

Diminishing Returns?

However, given that I have been on LinkedIn for 11 years now and that I have often spoken about it at various conferences and events over the years, it is surprising how few success stories I’ve heard. Yes, there’s a whole lot of connecting going on, but how often are those connections actually leading anywhere?

Maybe there’s a sort of law of diminishing returns at play here. As of this moment, I have 2,254 connections on LinkedIn. I’m sure there are plenty of other people I could or should connect with. When I come across one, I sent an invitation. But at some point the worthwhile connections must start to run low. And all these connections begin to feel fruitless, as if we are connecting purely for the sake of connecting.

As for the connection requests people send me, I’ve begun to view them with trepidation. If it is someone I know, I readily accept the invitation. If it is another lawyer, even one I’ve never met, I readily accept the invitation. But I currently have a LinkedIn inbox overflowing with invitations from people such as an events marketer from India, a VP of sales for an unnamed company in California, a mobile application developer, a relationship manufacturer at a furniture factory in China, a sales expert from Virginia, a marketing director for a limo company in Florida, and a simplicity consultant from Washington, D.C.

A simplicity consultant?

There’s a nice guy lurking inside me who doesn’t want to just reject all these people out of hand. Maybe there was a good reason they reached out to me. Maybe they weren’t just hoping to sell me something or to capitalize on our connection. I feel I should at least look at their profiles and see if I can discern some rational reason for the connection request. It seems increasingly rare that I find one.

So I am souring on LinkedIn. And I am wondering where this will lead. Lawyers have little time to waste and little patience for nonsense. If the noise and the spam continue to increase, will they come to overwhelm the value of LinkedIn? Will lawyers continue to tolerate it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you still find LinkedIn worthwhile? Are you troubled by the spam. Do you have success stories (or horror stories)?